On Tuesday evening, squirrel was what was for dinner. I hereby pronounce the meal . . . good! Of course, probably just about anything would taste good if you fry it in bacon and bacon grease. That is how I prepared my squirrel. After frying to make a crisp cover, it was popped into the oven to broil for awhile. Next to it was a pan of butternut squash and baking apples, seasoned with a little brown sugar and spices. It's good with pork, and went great with the fried squirrel.
Biscuits and a little mead finished off the meal. Now that I look at it, this meal could have used something green. Ah well . . . too late now. I'll have to steal a squirrel again from the girls and cook it up for our dinner.
It was a pretty quick hunt on Monday with Hit Girl at the park in Spring Grove. We had come to the farm to do laundry . . . still need to connect my own machines at home (after we sand and repaint the walls . . . which is why we are delayed). Hit Girl was at a very good weight, and it shows. She doesn't play around when properly motivated to hunt. She worked hard and quick for her squirrel. I decided to also put this one away, clean it good, and we are going to have it as our dinner on Tuesday night. I've never tried squirrel. Maybe it will taste better than rabbit.
A short while later we flew Sassy at the farm. We kicked up several squirrels that were foraging in their back lot. This lot is very brushy and overgrown, with way too many piles of old rusting farm equipment. Bunnies there are to be had here . . . but they are impossible to kick out, so well protected by all the junk. However, the squirrels ran for the trees. Sassy got some good exercise trying to catch them. She too was at a very good weight for hunting today . . . motivated. Her first squirrel was lost when it ducked into the ventilation hood of one of the old tractor tops. While poking around where it had hidden, we found a huge stash of nuts. The tree rat was tucked in good and safe . . . we could not move it out. It whistled and called in alarm, but was unreachable.
A second squirrel was isolated in a set of two trees, and was almost caught two times as it rushed down the tree, right over my head, with Sassy in hot pursuit. My being there, with my raised stick, I think impeded her progress and caused her to miss. Finally the squirrel threw all caution to the wind and raced down the tree to duck under the row of old rusty cars. Sassy followed into the cab, and then below the cars, but I know the squirrel had made good it's escape. We finished up her hunt, giving her a chance to chase the pigeons in the barn. She is very interested in them, but just not fast enough to catch them. Maybe next year, with the help of a speedy little tiercel Harris Hawk.
On Saturday Greg and I went hawking on the property of Brandon. He has a friend who is a photographer. All these pictures were taken by Jessi Kinserdahl-Hill. Thank you Jessi for letting me post some of your pictures on my blog.
She arrived after we had already been flying Hit Girl for about an hour, so we were headed up towards the house to call it a day. Hit Girl did have a couple squirrels to chase, but her weight was not exactly on, being just a little high, so she didn't chase as hard as she could have if she had been about 20 grams lighter. Still, she made a pretty good effort at the bunnies near the house. However, we had already moved them around a bit for Sassy, so they were on guard.
In the end I just brough Hit Girl down to the lure.
These were some nice pictures of that, catching her in flight.
She's a big girl, and has been a GREAT game hawk. I am, however, decided that I will be releasing her at the end of the season. Once the hunting is closed, I'll fatten her up for about a month or so, and then give her freedom back to her, probably in late April to early May, when the snow should all be gone, and young critters easier to find.
She is hard on her feathers in the mews. Last year she had a couple of broken primaries. This year they are just tipped at the end. I'm not sure why this is happening . . . but it is either way. I think she bounces around her mews quite a bit during the daytime. Next year I will be training Greg, so I think it would be good to train a new bird myself while mentoring him through the process . . . to make sure I don't forget anything. It's easier to remember when you go through it again yourself.
Sassy was also along for the day, but she had already been hunted, prior to both Brandon and Jessi arriving, catching the 40th critter of the season, not including mice, of which both girls have caught multiple of. This is the best I've done in a season, and there is still time to add a few more to the game freezer.
Upstairs, in one of our rooms, I've established my primping corner. I used to primp in my bathroom, prior to coming to live on the farm, and way before we bought our home, but the space in the bathroom at the farm did not make this possible. At the farm there was an open guest room, with a vanity, and so the habit was started to do my hair . . . and vary rarely make-up . . . at a vanity. It has become a comfortable habit! When we moved to our new home, I set about to find a vanity to continue the practice. Rich found me a nice old vanity with a mirror on an auction, which he won fairly inexpensively, but it did not come with a chair. I've been using one of our dining room chairs, but really wanted a bench. When I mentioned this recently, as I was looking over a different auction to see if anything available would do, Rich went looking for a bench for me. This is what he found on Craigs List.
Isn't it Pretty! I think it might be an old piano bench, or something like that. The lady selling it said she found it herself at an antique store some time ago, and that she was selling it for a heck of a lot less than what she bought it for, but that she needed to clear some space in her home. We purchased it for $30. It is exactly what I was looking for. It's really solid and sturdy.
Anyway, the reason I mention this is that when we went to pick it up, it required a drive up to to a little town near the Twin Cities. I packed up the hawks as I hoped to find some place to try to fly them. After the bench transaction, I had Rich stop at a place that had a brushy spot that looked really good. Oh . . . Was It! I really love it when I find a little gem like this. Unfortunately, it is a fair distance from my home, so most likely will not get visited again unless I make an effort to do so. There was rabbit sign all over the place as we entered the field with Sassy. Here is a clip with a quick catch of her first bunny right at the beginning. It happened so quickly, I traded her off, and we kept hunting. Rich then spliced together a clip near the end of our hunt, probably about 45 minutes later. If you watch the whole clip, you'll also see a good example of the hazards of bunny hunting in late winter. Rich trips on unseen snow covered branches, falling, and sending the GoPro flying. He regains his footing in time for the second catch.
This morning, Thursday February 7th, Rich and I accepted the invite of his co-worker to fly on his land. I know a Justin . . . he's my apprentice. Rich always qualifies his comments when "his" Justin has told him something, for he works with someone named Justin as well. Justin has access to a nice patch of woods which does have bunnies and squirrels. The snow is getting deep, so it was a bit of work to push the critters around, but at the far end of the field (of course), under a thick patch of brush, we managed to push out a bunny, and in a spectacular flight and a strong whack against the log it was diving under, Hit Girl caught her bunny.
Here I am with Justin. You can see how deep the snow is all around.
Because someone else was along to get our picture together, here is Rich and I. After this picture we began the long slog back to Justin's house. Each one of all three of us took our turn carrying Hit Girl, because I was getting tired of carrying her.
Later in the day we flew Sassy in the Rochester area. We did meet up with a young man who contacted me through Couchsurfing. Only after we parted ways did I realize we hadn't taken a picture. Sorry Michael! It was nice to meet you, and I'm glad you got to see a hawk fly. Wish she had caught more than a mouse, but she did try several times. I hope the rest of your trip here in Minnesota is good.
On Saturday February 2nd the Wisconsin Falconers met for their yearly meet in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. This is always a good time to meet up with many of my falconry friends, and see them fly their birds. Richard and I were up at 3:00 AM (well, I was up at 3:00 AM) to get myself together so we could get to the meet hall to arrive about 8:00 AM. As we were drawing close I called Dave (who is responsible for introducing just about all the falconers in his posse to falconry) only to find out he was sick and would not attend. He did make it a little later . . . can't keep the Bell Man down long . . . but in the morning we were on our own. I asked Hank if he knew how to find some of the popular spots there in the Madison area. He said he did. I know he and Dave have been flying their birds in the area of late. Upon arrival to the first site, the Frisbee golf park, Hank flew Bug first. There were many brush beaters, and quite quickly she had her first bunny for the day.
Emily's apprentice flew her hawk next, but Aerial (not sure if that is the correct spelling for the hawk - didn't get the name of the apprentice) was not quite motivated to hunt, and seemed to be enjoying the warm sunshine instead. She was called down, and Emily's Xena was up next. The large party of beaters continued to work the hillside, and after awhile . . . just about the time Dave showed up, Xena had her bunny for the day.
After a quick break for lunch at the 'wonderful' local McDonalds, Dave flew Hawquila. I missed all the action as I was standing on the sidelines visiting with a former classmate who lives in the Madison area, and who I have not seen for almost 30 years. As we were catching up with each other, Hawquila handily caught her bunny for the day. Dave shares the story that when he made into her on her kill, another rabbit broke and ran off. At first he thought his hawk had lost her rabbit, but when arriving to her found a bunny under her talons. Apparently she had pinned two rabbits, but only had a foot on one. That would have been a story to tell! I have heard of a falconer whose Coopers Hawk caught two sparrows, one in each taloned foot, and was walking around with them like little sparrow slippers . . . . but never a hawk with two bunnies. Well . . . if it is possible, it is something Dave will accomplish. Rich was in the group of beaters, so he did get a picture.
After Hawquila' kill we relocated to the hillside by the UW Ag Resource Management building to fly another red tail. There was a fairly deep and fresh layer of snow over the brushy hillside. Many rabbits were flushed, but she did not commit to any of them with purpose so they quickly escaped into the snow. After climbing up and down the hillside for awhile the bird was called down. It was then Ace's turn, Dave's peregrine. He got his chance at a Hungarian partridge. The group then went on to fly Bug again, but Rich and I bugged out. I was both wet from my sweating, and I also had gotten a lot of that deep and fresh snow down my collar. I was cold. We checked into our room and I stood under a hot shower for awhile to warm up.
Everyone reconvene over at the Masonic Hall, where we always have our evening program. Laura Yurtis hosted our spaghetti feed, which has become a new tradition, which everyone likes. It saves us the time of running around after hunting to find dinner, then get back in time for the program.
Our guest speaker was our own (well, that is Wisconsin's own) Neil Rettig, a wildlife cinematographer whose work is often featured by National Geographic. He is also a falconer, with a lifelong passion for raptors. He talked about his work and showed many clips. He is also unique in that he keeps a Harpy Eagle. I attended another talk that he did where I took the picture below with his Harpy, which is one of the largest eagles on the planet. I was also fortunate on this evening to absolutely clean up on the raffle, to include this signed and numbered print below. I tried for another just like it at the NAFA meet, but was unsuccessful. I shall get it professionally framed and it will look really nice on my wall. I really do like the look of many of those South American raptors, although I would not want a Harpy . . . . . WAAAAAAAY too scary!
Here is Neil with his Harpy. I don't remember the bird's name.
One of the other items of loot that I cleaned up on was a copy of American Eagle, which Neil did most, if not all of the filming for. I already have a copy, but now I have a signed copy. I was sitting at the table where he was sitting when I won it, and asked if I could get it signed. It is even more special now.
I'm attaching a video clip that I found of Neil and his Harpy. Impressive Bird! I just don't think I would want one that shows its affection by nipping your chest.
Below is another clip which Neil filmed. I had seen this clip prior to our meet, as one of the hawks used is Phil Yurtis' bird. This is a very good examble of what so many of us falconers like to try to capture with our cameras, and so often do not. Squirrel hawking is very exciting . . . . so often the squirrel escapes. It is not easy.
Neil shared his work, and expressed his passion for a cause and a hoped for future filming endeavor. One of the most critically endangered raptor species in the world is the Philippines Eagle. He hopes to be able to undertake a filming opportunity to try and shed light on the plight of this raptor, and to inspire action in the Phillipines to save it. Like so many other noble creatures, it is losing its battle for existence by not only illegal killing, but more importantly, by deforestation. As always, there are too many humans, and too many big money interests. Wood and land speak far louder than wildlife. I do not often get political on this blog . . . but falconry does touch on a nerve for me, like so many others. The wild places are being lost, and profit from the land seems to be the end all and be all for too many people. How often have we here in the US lost a hunting field, a waste place, so more cookie-cutter houses could be built, or stip malls, on streets named Birch and Oak and Country View. The conservative factions of our own county think it is their God-given right to overpopulate the planet (by restricting birth control measures) and exploit the planet, which after all they are certain God gave them to do with as they will. The issues are complex, and I don't really do much myself to aid them, using elecricity and driving a car. I fear some day it will resolve itself, most likely in an environmental collapse. I probably won't be around to see it, but it is a shame to watch it happening. I can admire people who try to make a difference.
I'm attaching this clip below, but it comes with a big qualifying message. I don't know who made it (not Neil) and there are many clips in here not relevent to the subject. I think the shots of the "eagle" on the nest with chicks is our own Decorah eagles (Bald Eagles, not the Philippines Eagle). Also, many of the pictures of dead birds are not even eagles. Also, at the end, they use the call of the red tailed hawk. How is it that every production that represents some raptor uses the call of the Red Tail? However, the message and the information are good enough to include here. It takes concern for an animal to save it. This is why frequently falconers give educational talks. To see the birds up close allows for a conversation of the role they play in our world, and how we need to keep wild places for them. Detachment from the wild allows it to be destroyed, and few understand the cost who have never walked in a wild place.
We got to bed late after the guest speaker, and my cleaning up on the raffle loot, and then drinks at the bar. On Sunday many folks went out to breakfast and then went hawking again. Rich and I drove down to Rockford to meet up with my sister Jennefer and her husband Jim. It was really nice to see them. I also found a really cool coffee mug to join my coffee mug collection. I have decorated my kitchen area in chickens. Word is getting out . . . as my sister also gave me some more chickens to add to the collection.
Falconry! Or more appropriately for me, Hawking! It is a passion, and a way of life. I happily pursue this sport, with the loving assistance of my husband. Come along with me for our adventures with the birds. Primarily we actively pursue it in the colder months . . . the rest of the time I try to make this blog as interesting as possible. Come let me share my stories, and feel free to contact me. I always enjoy talking about my obsession with this sport.